School Crisis Response

By Nora Carr

When 15-year-old Phoebe Prince hanged herself after enduring months of abuse by a group of girls and boys at Massachusetts’ South Hadley High School, her death shocked her small town school and community.

When District Attorney Elizabeth D. Schiebel filed criminal charges ranging from civil rights violations to rape against nine of Phoebe’s tormentors, and chastised school officials for not doing more to intervene, the resulting shockwave reverberated worldwide.

As the outrage mounted, a tiny school system with just four district administrators and 2,350 students found itself in the center of a media firestorm. Aided by the district attorney, who stopped just short of blaming school officials for Phoebe’s death, the media blasted the district 24-7 for a litany of failings.

The resulting picture was of callous and uncaring educators who tacitly endorsed cruel and criminal behavior by turning a blind eye to systematic bullying by popular students. Suddenly, South Hadley High School became the poster child for everything that’s wrong with teens and public schools today.

Having dealt with more than my fair share of school-related tragedies, I suspect the truth is far more nuanced and complex. 

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